How to Become a Creative Writing Teacher

Making a living as a writer can be difficult. If you write film scripts or novels, you may be able to make a living from writing alone, but if you’re a poet (even a very successful one), you will likely also need to do something else on the side. For a variety of reasons, teaching is an obvious choice. While some writers seek full-time positions at a high school, college or university, others focus on teaching in “low-residency” programs where students either work on line or in short spurts (e.g., they meet for just 5 to 10 days in an intensive workshop on campus). So how to become a creative writing teacher, especially in an institution where one will still have ample time to write? Given the fact that so many people who are writers need to supplement their incomes, finding and keeping a creative writing position that pays well can be difficult. Keep reading to find out how to become a creative teaching at the K-12 or postsecondary level and where you can expect to find the very best jobs.

How Can I become a Creative Writing Teacher at the K-12 Level

In K-12 education, you’ll likely only find creative writing positions at the high school level and even at the high school level, you will likely only be able to teach one or two creative writing courses per year. This means that anyone pursing this option, will also need to be qualified to teach other subjects. In most cases, people hired to teach creative writing at the high school level are in fact qualified English teachers. To become a high school English teacher:

  • Earn a bachelor’s degree, such as a Bachelor of Arts degree in English or a similar degree, such as Rhetoric or Creative Writing.
  • Complete a teacher education program (e.g. a program leading to a B.Ed or M.A.T. or any other degree attached to teacher licensure).
  • Pass applicable examinations for your state (e.g., the Praxis series of exams).
  • Become licensed and certified in the state in which you intend to teach.

While it won’t hurt to have a record of publication, at the high school level, an English degree and education degree are more important than your track record of publication. That said, if you have any additional skills (e.g., experience editing literary journals), be certain to highlight these experiences when on the job market.

How can I become a College or University Creative Writing professor?

MFAIn the past, many famous creative writing professors had no university degree at all.  Since the 1970s, MFA programs have flourished. Today, the MFA (master of fine arts) in creative writing is usually the minimum requirement. In some cases, a PhD is also desired or required. In addition, relevant teaching experience and a track record of publication is required. Unlike other academic jobs, in most cases, even entry-level full-time creative writing positions require one to have already published at least one book with a recognized press. The idea is that you are being hired as an already established writer and will continue to grow on the job. It also helps to engage in other professional activities. Presenting at conferences, especially at the AWP (Association of Writers and Writing Programs), is highly advised. Finally, a high percentage of positions advertised want to hire someone who can teach more than one genre (e.g., fiction and poetry or poetry and translation or scrip writing and fiction). In addition, experience editing literary journals or other relevant industry experience (e.g., working in publishing or as a journalist) will definitely help. In short, the more publications, relevant degrees, and genres, the more likely you will be to find and keep a desirable creative writing position.

What is the job outlook for Creative Writing teachers?

Anyone who is a qualified English teacher who can also teach creative writing can expect to find work in most states at the secondary level. After all, English is a core subject and there is always a demand for English teachers. If you can teach core English at the high school level, as well as an AP in creative writing, and perhaps, also serve as the teacher coordinator for the school’s literary journal, you’ll be considered a strong candidate.  At the postsecondary level, the market for creative writing jobs is very competitive. There are far more MFAs on the job market than there are jobs. For every job posted, hundreds of applications are received and hiring can boil down to subjective factors or departmental needs. Again, while publications were once the only or primary hiring criteria, over time, this has changed. Today, an MFA is usually the minimum criteria but a growing number of programs are now posting creative writing positions with the hopes of hiring someone with a PhD. The bottomline is that the more you can offer (MFA, PhD, national or international reputation and track record of publications and awards), the more likely you are to get hired.

What is the compensation for Creative Writing teachers?

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), high school English teachers (including Creative Writing teachers) can expect to make about $56,000 annually. At the postsecondary level, full-time creative writing teachers report incomes just under $70,000. But here is the problem. Most creative writing teachers at the postsecondary level do not work on a full-time basis. Many make just $3000 per course and cobble together jobs at two or more institutions on semester-long contracts. If you want to make a living as a creative writing teacher at the postsecondary level, you’ll need the right combination of degrees, experience, connections and publications.

So how to become a creative writing teacher? While some things that are required (e.g., a terminal degree, such as an MFA) and desired (e.g., multiple publications and the ability to teach in more than one genre), there is no single winning formula.  If you want a job in a creative writing department at the college or university level, it ultimately also helps to know people working in these departments who are in the position to carry out hires. In short, with so much competition, everything and everyone you meet counts.

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